Saturday night, November 9th, I drove my son, Rommi to the bus stop where he would catch the bus to join his unit and then embark on another 10-day training course in the shetach (training field). At the age of 21, he’s a vatik, an ol’ timer soldier, who has already been through two and a half years in the service as a paratrooper for the IDF with six months left to go. Just six months left to go. But, I knew that after this next set of training exercises, he was due to spend his last few months of service in Gaza.
“Remember, mom,” he said as he grabbed his gear from the back seat. “You won’t hear from me while I’m in the shetach, so don’t get nervous.”
Dropping him off at the bus stop was routine. I gave him a hug, kissed his blond, army-shaved head and stole one more glimpse of him through my rear view mirror as I drove away.
Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, the rockets over southern Israel intensified, reaching a swelling crescendo.
Where was our response?
Where was my son?
For the duration of Wednesday and Thursday, like everyone else I’m tuned in non-stop to the news all the while answering intermittent phone calls from friends who just received word that their sons were called down south.
“Have you heard from Rommi?” The question repeats over a span of more than 24 hours.
“No,” I try to keep my voice even. “I keep texting him, but so far, no answer.”
I’m in contact with some friends from the south. “I can arrange a place for you to stay further north,” I tell them. They thank me and refuse the offer. “I’m staying put,” one answers me in a defiant tone. “They’re not chasing me from my home!”
Rockets reach Tel Aviv.
I try to concentrate on work, try to raise funds for our soldiers, but most of my time is spent getting the news to people outside of Israel, knowing fully well that the mainstream media is not up to par, and is grossly biased against Israel. Many Facebook friends thank me for my posts, telling me they were not even aware that southern Israel was being bombarded with rockets for the past month, let alone the past decade.
I read that 16,000 reservists were called for active duty. Then 30,000. Then, 75,000.
Thursday evening comes. I hear from my older son who finished his army service nine months ago, now studying in the States. His artillery unit was not called up.
I breathe and then text my Rommi, again. No answer. I check his Facebook page. Maybe there’s a word or two there. I find a post from his sister in the States, Praying for you…feeling so sick not to be able to see you…proud of you…
Prayers and well wishes from his friends follow.
I contact my daughter in the States.
“Did you hear from him?”
“Just a short text, a minute ago.”
“What did he say?”
I go out to my terrace to have a cigarette, my too-manyeth of the day, and decide to drive out to Jerusalem. I promised my nephew to see his art show in the town’s center. On the drive there, I get a call confirming what I already knew.
“Yeah, they’re taking us to the beach. Too bad I left my bathing suit at home. I’ll have to wing it.”
“Funny Rom. You just be careful. Be smart. Don’t be a hero…You still have to clean your room.”
“Don’t worry Mom. I’m in a safe place. You can sleep well tonight.”
I put off speaking to my parents back in the States for as long as possible. I was never good at the lying thing.
I come home and attach myself to the news, trying in vain to find a clue about the IDF sending in the ground troops. I’m in contact with friends and family here and in the States, sharing whatever we know with each other but, mostly sharing all we don’t know. And…I hear from my other family, my new friends – my blogger friends on Times of Israel. Many of us are determined to get the news out, to get the truth out. We work it together. And in a stolen moment here and there, we reach out to the other with private messages. We feel for the other. We’re all one family.
I allow myself three hours of sleep. Before my eyes can acknowledge the morning light, I jump out of my bed to find out if our government made a decision about sending in the ground forces.
More rockets, more hits, more death, more wounded. I see an article on Times of Israel with a photo of a commander addressing his paratroopers before a possible ground invasion.
Shabbat will soon be here. It’s now just me and my youngest daughter, who just recently turned sixteen. She and Rommi are as close as two siblings can be. She worships her older brother and he adores her. But she’s not like me. She doesn’t wear her feelings on her sleeve. She doesn’t ask about Rommi.
Another text from Rommi before Shabbat. “You can sleep tonight, no one knows anything yet,” he writes.
I go into my email and answer the questions from a brother that lives in New York. “Rommi’s the man,” he emails me back.
No. He’s my Rommishinku. He’s my sensitive one, my guitarist, my singer, my ice-hockey player, my jokester, my thinker, my adventurer, my sun.
I light the Shabbat candles. Shortly after, two rockets plummet into Gush Etzion, just a few kilometers from where we live in Efrat. Why didn’t I hug my son longer before dropping him off at the bus stop? I close my eyes, trying to remember, trying to get that moment back.
I ask my teenage daughter to stay close to home tonight.
Over Shabbat, I step out of the norm and remain pinned to any and all news media. As soon as the three stars are out on Saturday night, I text Rommi, but I receive no response and I decide to wrest myself away from the news, away from the computer and force myself to go out for two hours.
Close to 1 AM, my phone rings. It’s Rommi. I know he can’t tell me anything, and I don’t burden him with questions. I warn him, though, “Watch out for the booby traps! Don’t trip over any wires or pull any stray strings!” I think he chuckled. I can’t be sure. Whatever he answered was drowned out by I love you my Rommi, I love you, my Rommishinku.
Sunday is here. I spend it pacing, checking the news, stepping away from it, returning to it, not getting any work done, not doing the laundry, not doing anything, really.
I get a call from my brother in Jerusalem whose son fought and was wounded in the Lebanon war in 2006. “Paratroopers will be sent in first,” he informs me.
It’s now 4 PM, Sunday, November 18th. I read on Times of Israel that a British paper claims that our special ground forces are already in Gaza.
God! Bless our children, bless our soldiers. Guide them. Keep them safe. Keep them warm. Bring them back to us, healthy and whole. Am Yisrael Chai.